Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's new book, Wine Grapes. Bet you can't try them all.
Wine geeks like to talk about their "aha moment": the wine that was so very delicious and profound that they scrapped their entire life plan and committed themselves to wine. But I don't recall my "aha" wine.
Instead, what I remember is the first wine I actively DESPISED. This wine made me heartily want to puke. I could not get it away from me; the sticky-spicy scent of a closet littered with potpourri satchels hung in my nostrils, pervading my sinuses, clinging like your great aunt's perfume after a lingering hug—strong and alarmingly persistent.
The wine was a red Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, and it was enthusiastically featured on the Festa Regionale: Marche! menu at Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana in Pasadena. This is where I waitressed for two and a half years after college while I tried to become a movie star. It's where I developed an affinity for lunching on raw beef carpaccio and ciabatta nearly every day pre-shift. It is where I met and secretly dated my sexy bartender boyfriend. It is where I learned how to pronounce and recommend "Linguine Mare Chiaro" with such confidence and convincing inflection that everyone and their mothers ordered it, Bella! It is where I learned the difference between big-B Italian wines Barolo and Barbaresco and Brunello.
And it is where I had the first wine that made me want to retch—not from overindulgence but because, to me, it stunk so, so very badly.
And so, as I begin this hunt for all the many offbeat wine grapes mentioned in Jancis Robinson's fat new tome, and as I reflect back on the last seven years I've spent learning about wine, a re-evaluation of our dear Lacrima di Morro d'Alba seemed in order. Perhaps in 2005, my virgin palate was shallow, ignorant, and uncouth! Perhaps my uneducated tongue was simply too immature to recognize Lacrima di Morro d'Alba's charm.
...Fast forward to right now: I open the 2009 Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro d'Alba. I swirl. I sniff. That piquant scent absolutely leaps out of the glass. It clings tenaciously to my nostrils and my tongue, just like auntie's perfume, just like I remembered it. As the dear Sam, who sold me this bottle at Biondivino, said: "It's a polarizing wine. You either love it or you hate it."
I give it a chance to open up, to mellow out and get comfy. I've always asserted that there's a proper occasion for every wine; it's just about finding the right occasion for each bottle. I wanted to play fair with my Lacrima. And you know what? It turns out this wine does have some great qualities.
In Wine Grapes, Jancis explains, "the name Lacrima (English 'teardrop') was probably given to this variety because when the berries are fully ripe, they exude small drops of juice."
To my taste, the grapes may as well have exuded thousands of tiny potpourri satchels, because the wine smells as if someone steeped these satchels in the fermenting juice: there's dried roses, lilies, violets, lavender, juniper, what I think myrtle berries must smell like, plus cinnamon sticks and allspice—the whole shebang in there.
A wine this strong could get scary without a kick of acid to lift it up and carry it along, but once you get past the freaky-potent aromatics, the wine lights up with a great streak of acidity. The tannins are mellow but not absent, giving it a soft texture, cruising along in stride with black pepper, Red Hots, and star anise. The whole thing finishes with a slathering of blackberry jam bringing up the rear. As I sip, I have a sudden craving for lamb chops sprinkled with sea salt, rosemary, maybe a little balsamic reduction. Or, moussaka... or, hey... Maybe Linguine Mare Chiaro, bella.
2009 Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro d'Alba (Marche, Italy)
The Grape: Lacrima di Morro d'Alba
The Region: Marche, Italy
Retail price: $22
The Importer: Vinity Wine Company